Soft power fail

Costa Rica withdraws its candidacy for the IDB presidency, what’s going on behind the scenes?

Laura Chinchilla, former president of Costa Rica, was one of the two female candidates to replace the ousted Mauricio Claver-Carone as president of the Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”). But her hopes were suddenly crushed when the Government of Costa Rica announced last week that it was withdrawing its candidacy for the presidency of the organisation.

President Rodrigo Chaves was never convinced about Chinchilla’s nomination after she openly criticised his administration. In early October, Chaves said that he had his reservations and that he would choose what was best for the country and not what was best for one person. Chinchilla expressed her surprise on Twitter and said that she did not agree with the government’s decision which, nonetheless, she accepted.

A former Costa Rican diplomat explained, “There are several factors at work: Chaves sees Chinchilla as an adversary; his recurrent discourse to his ‘hardcore supporters’ has been that those who have preceded him form part of an elite, with shades of corruption, making it difficult to explain his eventual support for Chinchilla; one of his closest collaborators and head of the legislative faction, Pilar Cisneros, has a mutual animosity with Chinchilla, by supporting her, Chaves would have created friction with Cisneros; finally he believes she isn’t a viable candidate (I believe she is) and that a technocrat would be a better appointment.”

“There are several factors at work: Chaves sees Chinchilla as an adversary.”

Former diplomat, Costa Rica

The relationship between Chaves, who took office last May, and Chinchilla has been tense as Chinchilla’s centre-left National Liberation Party (“PLN”) holds a majority in Congress while right-wing Chaves has a belligerent discourse against the country’s traditional political parties. Notably, former President José María Figueres, PLN’s candidate in the last election, recently called on PLN legislators to oppose the government’s initiatives. He said that Chaves’ economic and social initiatives lacked a clear long-term strategy for the country.

These internal disputes have resulted in the loss of a major international political platform. Amid left and right leaning countries in the Americas, Chinchilla positioned herself as the third-way presidential candidate for IDB, an institution which lends more than USD 10 billion per year in regional infrastructure projects. Moreover, she aimed to prioritise sustainable development strategies to combat climate change and organised crime in the region, two national priorities for Costa Rica.

“It was a great opportunity, […] there were important sympathies for former president Chinchilla and it could have been an interesting candidacy to avoid conflict between the big countries (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina).”

Former minister of communication, Costa Rica

A former minister of communication resented the missed opportunity for Costa Rican soft-power, “It was a great opportunity, and unlike what Chaves has said, it was understood that there were important sympathies for former president Chinchilla and that it could have been an interesting candidacy to avoid conflict between the big countries (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina). It would be the first time that a woman would occupy that post, and from a small country. It was a unique opportunity to further its foreign policy aims of tackling inequality, poverty, corruption and human rights. Likewise, for the Costa Rican business sector, it is a great opportunity for regional investment.”

Experts from the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry also expressed their regret at the decision, as they saw an opportunity for Costa Rica to remain relevant on the international stage. The former diplomat concluded, “The IDB presidency is an individual appointment but the nationality of its president is a source of reputation for the respective country; in our case, it would have been one more point of support for Costa Rica’s ‘soft power’, something key to our international management capacity.”

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